Did God “Wink” at Sin in the OldTestament?

by David J. Stewart | June 2002 | Updated November 2016

Acts 17:29-30, “Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.”

       I once heard a preacher say that the reason God allowed men to have multiple wives back in the Old Testament was because He “winked” at their sins back then. This is a lie. Friend, God NEVER “winks” at sin. If you'll notice Acts 17:30, you'll find that God winked at their “ignorance,” not their sins. 

Cain killed Able, did God wink at it? Certainly not! God pronounced a curse upon Cain for the sin of murdering Able, his brother. So why should we believe that God allowed or condoned any sin in the Old Testament? No my friend, if polygamy is sinful today, it was sinful back then as well. Malachi 3:6 tells us that God NEVER changes, He is immutable. If God never changes, then his hatred for sin never changes. Cain had no Bible, he had no law given unto him; yet, he was punished for his crime against his brother. Ignorance is no excuse of the law! Do you know why? 

Romans 2:15, “Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.”

The reason why ignorance is no excuse for our sins is because we all have God's laws written in our hearts, that is, a conscience. Cain didn't need a Holy Bible to tell him not to kill Able. Cain knew murder was not acceptable. The Apostle Paul tells us that the law makes sin “exceedingly sinful” (Romans 7:13). This is exactly why Paul told the men of Greece that they had no excuse not to repent, for they had the law and the prophets (Acts 10:43).  

So what does Acts 17:30 really mean?  What was God winking at in the Old Testament?  The word "winked" in Greek means "to overlook."  So what was God overlooking?   We read that Paul found the men of Athens worshipping God in a peculiar manner.

“For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you” (Acts 17:23). 

The dear Savior was a big mystery to Old Testament Saints. They knew that the Messiah would some day come, but they were ignorant about the specifics. Today, we have detailed information provided by the Word of God. We have absolutely no excuse not to repent (change our mind) and get saved. Oh how severe will be the judgment upon this generation for their continued rejection of the Gospel and their love for sin. With the modern technological advances, the Gospel is being preached across the radio waves into every nation. The Old Testament folks didn't have much to go on. If they had even the simplest of faith, though based in total ignorance, God accepted that faith for salvation. Today, we know exactly what God expects from us. 

The Blessing of Having the Complete Scriptures

For millenniums, Old Testament kings, princes and wise men, and particular the prophets, were desirous to see the coming Christ—the fulfillment of Bible prophecy. Even the angels were curious. Yet, we have full knowledge today of Christ's birth, life, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension into Heaven. 1st Peter 1:10-12, “Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.” Jesus Christ has already come! The very happenings that wise men, kings and prophets sought to witness for millenniums, we have beautifully documented in the New Testament. What they could only try to envision at best, we have recorded as documented history for us today. We are so blessed! And yet, so few people today have any regard for the Holy Scriptures.

It is wonderful to be able to have a solid knowledge of the Scriptures, which God has made available to us today. What a joy to contend for the Biblical faith (Jude 1:3). There is no reason for any Christian to lack doctrinal soundness in these modern times. We have Bible study aids available at our fingertips, freely on the internet. Tragically, heresy is still creeping into our fundamentalist Baptist churches by the hour. This is largely because of corrupted radio and television preachers, who “tickle the ears” of their hearers, to appease them and make lots of money selling them things. The Bible calls them “GREEDY DOGS”! Isaiah 56:1, “Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter.” Greedy false preachers are nothing new under the sun! Their love for money corrupts their preaching, which is why Joel Osteen won't preach the truth, won't teach sound Biblical doctrine, and won't preach against the dangers of sin. Instead, Mr. Osteen is a motivational speaker. Osteen's net worth is $40,000,000!!! It is a crying shame that he dares to even call himself a Christian minister (i.e., servant)! From what I am seeing, Joel Osteen only serves himself.

Churches Have No Excuse for Remaining Ignorant Today

Just as with “political correctness” in the wicked secular world, there is also a wicked “theological correctness” that is not Biblically correct. For example: It is unpopular these days to stand with the King James Bible only crowd, so ecumenical ministries just go along with every new Bible version that is published. They don't want to suffer persecution for Christ. I've attended independent Baptist churches (i.e., the Bob Jones University and Moody Bible Institute crowd) where the pastor never preaches against sin. Instead, they vote members in or out, demanding that members in good standing abide by a strict moral code, which they publicly recite every few months in church. Violators are kicked out of the club (church family). Entertainment is a big deal in the church, where there's clapping of hands regularly after special singing, cantatas replace Sunday evening preaching, and they have numerous orchestras composed of varying age and talent groups. Music is top priority, while preaching isn't even a distant second on their list of church priorities. Truthfully, it's just a damned social club!

Sadly, that's what churchgoers want these days. They want captivating church videos. They want exciting entertainment. They want modern music. They want plenty of good times. But they don't want hard preaching! They don't want the truth. They don't want the King James Bible. They don't want women to wear dresses. Some of the church deacons have pierced ears. I spoke to one deacon not too long ago who struggled with the assurance of his salvation. When I gave him an excellent book clarifying the Gospel, he despised it because it exposed Evangelist Ray Comfort as a corrupt false prophet. No wonder that deacon can't figure his salvation out!

Being Ridiculed and Persecuted for Faith in Jesus Christ

The key issue here in Acts 17 is “ignorance,” not sin. Many people today worship foolishly as did these men in Greece; however, folks today choose to remain willingly ignorant of the truth. I have witnessed to many Catholics who would not budge. They refuse to break away from their family tradition. I invited one Catholic man to church and he said he didn't want to be converted. He has no excuse. He knows what needs to be done, but he's afraid to step outside of the mold which his family is locked into. How sad! Hell will be filled with “...the fearful...” (Revelation 21:8). So many people refuse to accept the Good News (i.e., Gospel) of Jesus Christ crucified, buried and risen the third day. They are afraid because their families and friends would laugh at them, and reject them in many cases.

I remember a Hispanic man years ago, a co-worker in his forties whom I led to the Lord, who was ridiculed and ostracized by his own Catholic mother and brother for becoming a born-again Christian. Matthew 10:36, “And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.” After a youth of wine, women and song. he finally came to Jesus Christ for forgiveness and salvation. Now he's a Christian, living for the Lord. He said that whenever he mentions being “born-again” to his mother, she becomes enraged. She has much animosity towards true Christians. Her son chose to become a born-again believer, regardless of what his family thought. He chose Jesus Christ! The man's mother is not ignorant, she is willfully rebellious against God's Word. She has heard the truth and has rejected it.

We Have the Clarity of the Gospel Today

Men have never been saved by works, nor partial faith plus works. I totally disagree with the dispensationalists (such as Peter Ruckman) who errantly teach that Old Testament saints were saved by faith and works combined.

There is no salvation in the Catholic church! No Catholic priest can forgive sin! Jesus has already paid the price for our sins, with His precious blood (1st Peter 1:18-19). It is easy to be saved. Simply receive Christ's sacrifice on the cross as payment for your sins, believing that He DIED, was BURIED and bodily RESURRECTED miraculously after three days. This is “the Gospel” according to 1st Corinthians 15:1-6.

Although a person doesn't have to “turn from sins” in the sense of literally forsaking them to be saved (because that would constitute a work), a person does have to acknowledge that they are a guilty sinner in the sight of God (Romans 3:19). Repentance is simply “a change of mind,” without which no man would ever BELIEVE the Gospel to be saved. What must a person change their mind about? Obviously, whatever is hindering them from believing. In Christianity a changed life is produced by the indwelling Holy Spirit when a person gets saved (Galatians 2:20; Romans 8:9), and not by manmade false repentance from sins, which is really reformation (Matthew 27:3).

What is your soul worth friend? Will personal fear keep you from coming to Christ to be saved? One of the nations with the lowest rate of Christians is Japan. This is largely because of their culture, which is strongly based upon family tradition. In Japan, becoming a Christian means going against the whole extended family and community, breaking long held traditions. No doubt this is part of the reason why Jesus said in Matthew 10:36 that a man's foes would be the members of his own family. ...

Matthew 10:37-38, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.”

So what is the Bible saying? Was God saying that we should not love our parents? We are commanded to honor our parents. “Honor” primarily means to help them out when they're unable to care for themselves. The word “honor” means “to value.” We are to value our parents, not to abandon or take advantage of them in any manner. 

Howbeit, Jesus was teaching that our loyalty first and foremost must always be toward God. If our parents and family reject Christ and His doctrine, then we are to follow after Jesus Christ. Though our family may reject us, we are to obey God rather than man. Acts 5:29, “Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.”

Many churchgoers do not have a clear view of the Gospel. This includes many Christians. They know about the Gospel, and they are trusting Christ for their salvation, but many of them lack the solid assurance of there salvation, simply because they have never heard the simple and plain Gospel clarified in their own mind. The Bible defines “the Gospel” as: Christ's DEATH, BURIAL and RESURRECTION (1st Corinthians 15:1-6). Please read Dr. Harry Ironside's (1876-1951) awesome book titled, “WHAT IS THE GOSPEL?

God Winked at Their Ignorance, Not Their Sins

So once again, let me say, God may have “winked” at ignorance in the Old Testament because of the mystery of the coming Messiah, but God did NOT wink at sin. God killed a man in the Old Testament for simply touching the ark of the covenant. Korah and his followers were consumed by the earth into the fires of Hell when they rebelled against Moses, God's man. God didn't play games back then. As a matter of fact, God destroyed the entire world because of the wickedness of mankind in Noah's day. They didn't have a Bible, only Noah, a preacher of righteousness. God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. They had no Holy Scriptures.

Yet, we do have the Holy Scriptures. We are without excuse. God tolerated man's ignorance back in the Old Testament, because they lacked the complete Word of God that we have in modern times. We are far more accountable to God today than the world was before Noah's flood and the destruction of Sodom. The Bible tells us about all these things to warn us, to give us an example to heed. Jude 1:7, “Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” The example teaches us that unrepentant sinners burn in Hell. The redeemed go to Heaven.

Today, we have preaching and Bible teaching abundantly available. Yet, people are acting as they did back in Noah's day (i.e., eating, drinking and going from one failed marriage to another). Oh how awful will be the judgment of God upon this wicked generation. We have the truth all around us, crying from the rooftops as we read in Proverbs chapter 1, yet most people shirk it off. More Americans are forming their opinions from late-night TV, than they are from the inspired Word of God in the King James Bible. How tragic and sad! America has lost her greatness because we have forsaken the holy God of the Holy Bible.

Friend, we have no excuses! We have an abundance of truth today. Billionaire Ted Turner said, “Christians are losers.” I heard him say, “I look forward to going to Hell because I sure deserve it.” What a fool! Mr. Turner has no excuses. How foolish and wicked is the heart of humanity. Isaiah 45:9, “Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands?”

God has never winked at sin throughout history. When Adam and Eve sinned, they were evicted from the Garden of Eden. They were put onto the streets of the fallen world in which we live today. Everybody has paid for it since. Sin always brings adverse consequences, one way or another, to someone, somewhere, at some time. Since people in the Old Testament had limited facts to work with, God was patient with them and winked at their ignorance of the things of God. Acts 17:30, “Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.” We see clearly from the preceding Scripture what God was patient toward, that is, their unbelief.

Since people in the Old Testament had very limited knowledge of God, He was very lenient with them. I wouldn't argue the point, but I believe this passage of Scripture means God allowed many adults to live, just as if a small ignorant child died before they were old enough to understand the concept of sin and judgment. I believe there were adults who died and didn't go to Hell, just as little children don't go to Hell, because they were sincerely ignorant of the things of God. In other words, God would be unjust to send anyone to Hell who didn't have a clear understanding of rejecting Christ as their Savior. I believe many people in ancient times died as adults, but due to their utter ignorance, God dealt with them as if they were children. I cannot prove this theory, and I am not saying this is Biblical, but it seems to be a logical conclusion.

Please don't misunderstand me, I am NOT saying that God ever allowed any Christ-rejecter to avert punishment in the fires of Hell. I am simply saying that the Bible says they were ignorant, and God winked at their ignorance, BUT NOW HE COMMANDETH ALL MEN EVERY WHERE TO REPENT. God demands today that men change their minds and believe the Gospel. That would seem to indicate to me that God didn't require all men, everywhere, to repent in the Old Testament. That doesn't mean that didn't have to get saved. I think it just means they had the level of understanding of children, and God's grace protected them in His mercy and love. I could be wrong, but that seems to make sense. There has never been two plans of salvation. There has always been only one Gospel. Men have always been saved by faith, which God has counted (imputed) for righteousness (Romans 4:3-6). If a man is born retarded and is never able to logic and make conclusions, I am fully convinced that he would automatically go to Heaven. That is what I am saying.

God demands today that men change their minds and believe the Gospel. Why? It is because we have a clear Gospel defined in the Scriptures (1st Corinthians 15:1-6). No one in the world today can claim ignorance, because we have the story of Jesus crucified buried and risen. But if there is such a person today, whether mentally challenged, or woefully naive, God's mercy will not cast any man into Hell except those who have consciously rejected Jesus as the Christ. God is a fair and good God!!!